Summer Noms

It’s been far too long since I wrote a food post. I’ve been in a major recipe rut for months now, and having to be on a low-carb diet hasn’t helped the cause any. But, I felt inspired today to post my favorite, favorite, favorite pasta salad recipe, for a couple of reasons.

1. Us San Franciscans are just beginning to enter our real summer, which comes a bit later than it does for the rest of the country. September and October are our hot, sunny, stellar months. We’ve had some good days so far this August too. And we’re rockin’ it. So, it’s time to whip out the “summer” recipes–i.e. those that don’t involve the oven and/or are served cold.

2. Every time I make this salad, Bowie enjoys it a little bit more. The last time I made it, he gobbled up every last drop.┬áIf you know my son at all (or have read my Twitter account on any given day) then you know he is about the pickiest eater there is. Won’t try a new thing ever. ESPECIALLY if it’s green. But he eats every single morsel of this salad. Once you see the ingredients, you’ll understand why this is so noteworthy. So, parents of picky eaters: read on.

You’re likely wondering how I can include a pasta salad in my diet when I’m supposed to be keeping it low-carb. First off, I use whole wheat pasta, which is better for the ol’ blood sugar than regular white pasta. Secondly, I can tolerate more carbs later in the day, so right now I reserve this dish for dinner. Thirdly, it helps to eat the pasta in conjunction with the other ingredients. And finally, our old friend portion control.

Ok. So. This recipe is based on one I found a while back on Real Simple. Well, it’s exactly this recipe, except that they advertise it as a lunch dish and the recipe “serves 2”. When I make it, I double or triple it, and really just eyeball the amounts needed of each of the ingredients. Which is why, to the dismay of some of you, I don’t have any exact measurements listed here, only the ingredients you need. You can decide how much of everything you want, which I think just adds to the beauty of the recipe. Ok, here you go:

Most Delicious, Kid-Friendly Pasta Salad Ever

Cooked and cooled pasta, penne works well

Bocconcini (smallish mozzarella balls) or chopped fresh mozzarella

Grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

Baby spinach, chopped

Salami, chopped

For the dressing:

3 parts olive oil

1 part white wine vinegar or rice vinegar (my “parts” are typically tablespoons)

salt and pepper

Mix all the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Give it a taste and adjust based on how you like it. Put it on the salad and toss well to mix. It helps if this sits in the fridge for a half a day or so to let the flavors mix, but totally not necessary.

That’s it. Simple to make, easy to find ingredients, nice and light for those hot summer nights. And the leftovers keep for days. Yay for easy lunches!

Happy eating! And happy pleasing your picky kid!

(I mean, I hope it helps, at least. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be when someone says they have the “key to getting a picky kid to eat!” and you find it doesn’t work for your kid.)

Nemesis

I love fresh basil. I cook with it a minimum of once a week. But, as much as I adore it, I also abhor it. Basil is my archnemesis.

Let’s start with the simple act of purchasing it at the grocery store. You buy the only big, green, fragrant lovely bunch that has no signs of mold in the entire store. You take it home. If you don’t use it up within 48 hours, you’re left with gooey puddle of black mush. And I’ve tried storing it in baggies, not in baggies, in the fridge, out of the fridge, in water, not in water, you name it. The best method seems to be: countertop, in water. But even then, you get 4 days, tops.

This leads me to the other issue. All this throwing-out-of-black-mush led me to the conclusion that it might be more cost-effective and less wasteful to grow my own basil.

I’ve been attempting that one for 6 years now.

Basil likes sun. But, not too much sun. And it likes heat. But not too much heat. It also needs a lot of water. But, whoa there, not too much water. And you too can grow basil from seed! Provided it gets *just the right touch* of heat, sun and water.

This last time, I thought I had it nailed. My little basil seedlings (purchased at the garden center, already grown, because SCREW that from-seed idea) were sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen, minding their own business. Lots of sun, not too much heat, right there for me to monitor the moisture of the soil and water accordingly. And then, the leaves start disappearing. I don’t mean falling apart, I mean disappearing. And there’s this suspicious black dust all over the windowsill, and in the sink below.

This morning it had gotten to the point that I needed to investigate. I brushed off some of the black dust, and then shook the plant a little.

PLOP PLOP.

Two big, fat caterpillars fall into the sink. I mean BIG. I mean FAT. At least an inch long, diameter of a pencil eraser. I’m having a hard time figuring out how they got into my kitchen, and at this point sort of think they came home with me from the garden center. And the black dust? I’m surmising that it’s caterpillar poop.

Little shits have eaten at least a dozen leaves between the two of them over the past week. The same caterpillars we find in the yard eating dandelions. These ones are FEASTING on my fresh basil. So, even when all systems are a-go, something happens to rob me of my basil.

I’m going to attempt to bring this plant back to life. This LEAFLESS plant. But, if I can’t, I’m at a loss. What is the lesser of two evils: throwing away half the basil you purchase at the grocery store, or getting to use about the same amount from your own herb garden, only to have to start over with a new plant every month?

The No-Nuke Family

Some of you probably remember when my husband convinced me that we didn’t need a microwave. I very reluctantly agreed to give the microwave-less life a chance. It’s not as tough as you might think. I did miss it at first, but I was forced to improvise. I asked on Twitter what people used their microwaves for the most, and here are my non-nuking strategies:

1. Heating/Reheating This is easily the number one thing people use their microwaves for. Reheating leftovers. And this was a really, really big one for me too. But, I have found there isn’t a single thing you can’t reheat in the oven, in a skillet or in a sauce pan. To avoid dry-out: on the stove top, add just a smidge of water or milk and in the oven, cover with foil. Also paramount to this method is keeping an eye on the food. Don’t get distracted with other chores, it’s way to easy for things to start sticking to the pan or burning. For just heating up foods, say, from a can, I just plop it into a sauce pan. We eat a lot of canned food, too. I mean, we don’t have a microwave, but we’re not crazy.

2. Thawing It’s so much easier to plan a dinner at the last minute when you have the option to quick-thaw meat, soup, bread, veggies, whatever it is. Thawing is really pretty simple though, even quick-thawing. For meat, I place it in a bath of cold to lukewarm water (hot will encourage bacteria to grow), then swap out the water a few times as it cools. Meat will thaw in less than 2 hours this way. I know the safest way to do this is to thaw overnight in the fridge. This is for really desperate times, and good quality meat. Typically I get it pretty well thawed, then throw it back in the fridge until cooking time. The water bath method will work for soups, stews, broths, etc. For bread, I wrap it in foil and put it in the oven on a low temp for 10 minutes or so. For veggies, I either steam them, or use a skillet/sauce pan. This usually takes less than 5 minutes. Sure, not as quick as a microwave, but quicker than the leave-it-out method. I used to thaw Bowie’s baby food in the microwave, and I’m still using veggie purees sometimes. I just use a double boiler method, and it works perfectly. Just put boiling water in a large container, put your frozen puree in a smaller container, and dip it in the boiling water for a few minutes. BAM. Works perfectly for melting butter too.

3. Heating/Reheating Coffee and Tea I’m not a coffee drinker, so I don’t have any GREAT solutions for you. But, I know some people will add a little bit of boiling water to a cup of coffee to heat it up. A little watered down, but it’s warm at least. I do the same for tea. And I used to love making my tea in the microwave, because I had it down to a science and it came out ready-to-drink. With the boiling water method, you just have to be patient.

4. Microwave Bacon I am a big fan of microwave bacon. Less greasy, more crispy, OH YEAH. But, we’ve made some pretty amazing bacon in the oven. This is another one where you kind of have to keep an eye on it, but it’s totally worth it. And if you sprinkle some brown sugar on top before cooking it? HEAVENLY.

5. Drying a Cell Phone Not one of the answers I had expected to get, but a legitimate response, certainly. We too have been in the wet cell phone situation. But, what worked for us? A bowl of rice. Seriously. Take out the battery as soon as you can after the spill, bury the phone and the battery in a bowl of rice for 24 hours or so, and it should come out working fine. (Notice I said should. SHOULD. I’m not a cell phone technician.)

What else do you use your microwave for? Do you have any other recommendations for families that don’t have one?

The Aformentioned Lime Vinaigrette

By popular demand. (Ok, so just my mom asked, haha). An SF Wankel household classic.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)

2 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar

a few grinds salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour over salad/pasta/pretty much whatever you want.

I adapted this recipe from making this salad so many times (which is UNBELIEVABLE, make it NOW). But, I have also put it on green salad, quinoa salad, a whole bunch of stuff, it’s very versatile. I tried making it with lemons once, and I didn’t care for it, but some might.

Beth’s Picks: Handy Kitchen Tools

A while back I started writing a post that was a list of all the kitchen tools I consider to be really important for the 5 star home chef, but that list got a bit lengthy and I didn’t know what to keep and what to cut. I like my kitchen tools. A lot. Just ask my friends, who have had to listen to me drone on about my amazing potato masher or my beloved juicer. I’ve also given short lectures on the importance of having a good steamer.

Anyway, I switched gears a bit, and I give you: a very abbreviated list of some awesome products that I tracked down on OpenSky. If you’re without these, you’re not alone, and will probably get along fine. But they sure are fun and nice to have around.

Slow Cooker

This just happens to be the one that I have (though I don’t have that “Little Dipper” deal, and I’m curious what it’s all about). I LOVE MY CROCK-POT. It is such a versatile kitchen tool, and you can make the most amazing meals and barely lift a finger. It does all the work for you, while you are going about your day. Probably my number one recommendation.

Crock-Pot 5 Quart Chrome Slow Cooker, $53

A Good Set of Whisks

They might not seem all that fancy or important, but I love my whisks. I use them for a multitude of things, including whipping up my famous lime vinaigrette. This set is particularly nice because of the silicone coating. Everything will just slide right off–so easy to clean–and they can stand up to pretty high temperatures, and won’t damage your metal cookware. Also, it’s great that they come in a variety of sizes, because sometimes you just need a tiny little whisk.

Three Piece Whisk Set, $18

A Good Set of Rubber Spatulas

Like the whisks, a set of rubber spatulas come in handy for a variety of kitchen tasks. Personally, I like to use them in place of wooden spoons when I’m frying or sauteeing, because they don’t soak up the oil. They are also the best tool there is for getting every last drop of something out of a pan or bowl. I only have two, but I should get more, I use them often and sometimes it feels like they are always in the dishwasher.

Rachel Ray 3 Piece “Spoonula” Set, $18

Prep Bowls

I have already spoken at length in a previous post about the importance of the prep bowl, so I will spare you. But they are super handy to have around, especially if you’re making something that calls for a large number of ingredients to be chopped, sliced, minced or cubed. You can have it all organized and ready to go as you cook the dish. This is a technique that I credit for completely changing how my food turns out. Really.

CaliBowl Cali Stack Nesting Bowls, $30

Handheld Citrus Juicer

This isn’t exactly the juicer that I own, but it’s very similar. And, like I said before, I’m in love. We squeeze a lot of lemons and limes in this house for a lot of stuff, from vinaigrettes to margaritas, and this tool is indispensable for us. If you came into our kitchen on any random day, chances are you’ll see it on the counter, recently used. I like it because it extracts the juice quickly and easily. You’re not grinding it on a point like the juicers that catch the juice in a dish. And you don’t need to by some fancy automatic juicer. Just slice in half, squeeze, enjoy.

Amco 8-inch Two in One Citrus Juicer/Squeezer, $27

Grilled Cheese for the Kiddos

Since embarking on this hiding-the-veggies-in-his-food regimen, I have found that so many of these mom chefs are getting the nutrition in either by frying up the food with hidden veggies in oil or hiding the veggies in a dessert full of sugar. Both of which I was trying to avoid. I mean, once in a while is fine, of course, but not three meals a day or anything.

One recipe stuck out to me as a pretty good course of action, and I make it for Bowie nearly every day for either lunch or dinner: grilled cheese with veggie puree. It’s got several healthy elements, and kids tend to scarf it down, plus it’s super easy to make. And it’s even tasty for adults, because the veggie adds such a nice, creamy texture and a richer flavor to it. AMAZING with a bowl of tomato soup.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Sweet Potato or Butternut Squash

(Adapted from a recipe from Deceptively Delicious)

Makes 1 sandwich

1/4 cup shredded cheddar

1/4 cup butternut squash or carrot puree*

butter or spread of your choice

two slices bread (use whole wheat for another health boost)

1. Mix the cheese and the puree together in a small dish.

2. Butter both slices of bread on one side.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium low.

4. Place one slice of bread in the skillet. Place the cheese and puree mixture on top of this slice. Then place the other slice on top. Allow it to brown, then flip and allow that side to brown (a couple of minutes on each side). Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

*To make carrot puree, peel carrots and cut into 3 inch chunks. Steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary. Carrots are a great source of beta carotene and fiber.

To make sweet potato puree, cut whole sweet potatoes into quarters (leave peel on). Steam for 40 to 45 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, leave them whole and roast them at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Scoop the flesh from the peel and puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, beta carotene and antioxidants.

Purees can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, or can be frozen and stored for several months. I freeze the puree in ice cube trays so I can easily pull out small amounts at a time (great technique if making your own baby food too!).

You could use other veggie purees if you have them, but for this recipe, the carrot and the butternut squash have a creamy and mild enough flavor to blend right in.


Beth’s Picks: The CaliBowl Cali Stack Nesting Bowls

In my quest to teach myself how to cook, I noticed something about a lot of the chefs and cooks that I watched work their magic: they were prepared. Many chefs refer to it as “mise en place”, a French phrase basically meaning “everything in place”. It just means that you should have all of your necessary ingredients ready at hand, measured and prepared (peeled, chopped, sliced, minced, etc.).

When I began doing this, my cooking was taken to the next level. Having everything at the ready like that makes it nearly impossible for you to screw up a dish. No more burning something because the next ingredient wasn’t ready. No more realizing halfway through cooking that you are out of a key ingredient.

So, with the holidays coming up, and all the cooking that goes along with that, I want to propose that you get your hands on a good set of prep bowls, which are fantasically handy when it comes to getting your mise en place on. A great set that I have found on OpenSky is the Cali Stack set from CaliBowl. They’re cute, they’re affordable and they’re made well.

These bowls are made of durable plastic, partially recycled materials, and are BPA free. They are also conveniently microwave and dishwasher safe, and they are nesting bowls (fitting inside one another) for easy storage in anyone’s kitchen. The bowls hold 1 cup, 1 1/2 cups, 3 cups and 5 cups.

I’ve got the Retro Aqua Blue pictured here (my personal favorite), but there are a few colors to choose from in my shop (including the Lime Green which is currently available for an amazing sale price).


Buy Now

And the super news is, OpenSky has generously offered me another coupon code for the next ten people to make a purchase from my OpenSky shop! Save 25% off your purchase of anything from my OpenSky shop with the code VERYBLOG30PCT (enter at checkout). Expires October 31.

Happy cooking, and happy shopping!